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2019 RMHOF inductee Christine Lavin plays Café Veritas

Endearing folk


Folk singer-songwriter Christine Lavin returns to Rochester for a concert at Café Veritas on Saturday, November 2. - PHOTO BY IRENE YOUNG
  • Folk singer-songwriter Christine Lavin returns to Rochester for a concert at Café Veritas on Saturday, November 2.
It was the last song of the 2019 Rochester Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on April 28 at the Eastman Theatre. Christine Lavin had just been inducted that evening, and was sharing the stage with heavyweights including Beach Boy Al Jardine and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, a flashy guitarist who has been in bands such as Guns N’ Roses. Lavin, a physically slight folk singer, was surrealistically rocking out to the Bob Dylan tune “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” on her acoustic guitar, alongside a coterie of male musicians for the grand finale.

“I was very conscious of being the only woman being honored that night,” Lavin says in a late-night email from her home in Manhattan. “I was simply not going to be handed a tambourine to play, or even worse, just clap my hands. I had to be playing guitar. I could imagine some young girls in the audience watching, thinking, ‘Yeah, I can do that!’ ”

Lavin is a bon vivant. She is a born entertainer, but the SUNY Brockport graduate is also a connector with a tremendous social circle.

Her most recent video, for “Ode to Clint Eastwood,” was debuted by The Washington Post last month. Despite having never met Eastwood, Lavin wrote the song as a favor to her friend, who has a crush on the Hollywood icon.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson contributed a spoken-word introduction on her tune “Planet X.” She has collaborated with countless performers including Julie Gold, whose song “From A Distance” was even played in outer space.

Lavin’s current album is a 20-track “Best of” collection that made the FAI Folk Chart, landing in the top 10. All of the songs display an extraordinary ability to use clever lyrics to articulate what's exactly on her mind. “Just because songs are popular, doesn't mean they're the best I can do,” says Lavin of picking the selections on the album. “I figure this is my last chance to put a spotlight on songs, over the years, that I've loved writing that haven't caught on with many people yet.”

One of the songs, “Something Beautiful,” is about leaving beauty in our wake when we leave the planet. In an eerie coincidence, it contains a poem recited by Lavin’s aunt, who died the day after the album was mastered. “I had to ask her many, many times to record her poem,” Lavin says. “She had the most indelible voice. Nobody else sounds like her, and I wanted to preserve that for all time.”

Christine Lavin (front left) performing at the 2019 Rochester Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony last April with Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (front right) and Al Jardine (far right). - PHOTO BY PETER PARTS
  • Christine Lavin (front left) performing at the 2019 Rochester Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony last April with Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (front right) and Al Jardine (far right).
Lavin was part of the entourage that traveled with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue during the first week of the tour in 1975. She worked at Caffè Lena, in Saratoga Springs, when the owner Lena Spencer was invited to tag along on the tour. Spencer didn’t have a driver’s license or a car, so Lavin and a coworker got swept along. “Dylan was a nervous presence, always jumpy, and all the other performers were very aware that his presence made the tour possible,” Lavin says.

She had been too shy to say anything to Dylan at the concerts, but when he joined Lavin and her friends at a restaurant table, she told him that she loved how he ended the shows with “This Land is Your Land.” She then taught him a verse of the song that Pete Seeger had been singing, which shifted the words to a Native American perspective.

Lavin was performing at Caffè Lena when she met her guitar teacher and mentor Dave Van Ronk, who convinced her to relocate to New York City in 1976 and choose a path as a singer-songwriter. As a result, Lavin has become “the unsung heroine of the latter-day folk movement,’’ according to fellow singer Janis Ian. Besides charming the listener’s ears with her songs, Lavin is also an author, radio host, and co-founder of the all-female group Four Bitchin’ Babes. Recently she made a video (“wut?”) featuring a cameo by her audiologist.

Over the years, Lavin has noticed a gradual amount of hearing loss.

“It's not terrible,” she says, “but it's due to getting blasted by feedback more times than I can remember, and also probably turning the volume up too loud on headphones. I've always been a headphone freak, and now I'm paying the price.”

Her mother’s hearing was bad toward the end of her life, too. One day Lavin and her mom were a watching a cooking show on television where contestants prepare a meal, and if the judges don’t like it, they are removed from the program. They get chopped.

Lavin says her mom was horrified. “They get…shot?”

The singer-songwriter’s performances involve plenty of humorous stories. She can include surprising feats like baton-twirling or launching into a rap. Shows are sandwiched in between rounds of knitting and fancy napkin-folding with her fans.

Now at age 67, her schedule hasn’t slowed down. This past summer, a lot of it involved upstate New York, where she made a video highlighting the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva's week-long Culinary Camp at New York Kitchen in Canandaigua; she also performed at the historic Chautauqua Institution. Lavin spent the month of September at the artist colony Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, where she finished three new songs — including the one about her friend being madly in love with Clint Eastwood.

“It’s been an interesting year, that's for sure,” Lavin says. “Maybe it will be capped off by a wedding and maybe I can sing that Clint Eastwood song at the reception. Maybe I can get ‘Bumblefoot’ to jam on it.”

Christine Lavin performs on Saturday, November 2, 7:30 p.m. at Café Veritas at First Unitarian Church, 220 South Winton Road. $10 students, $18 general admission.; free for ages 12 and under.;